Book a Month Challenge #5: Mother


I cheerfully tossed Andrea Buchanan’s Mother shock : loving every (other) minute of it and (perhaps less cheerfully) Susan Wicklund’s This common secret : my journey as an abortion doctor on my library hold list, intending to review one or the other. Neither of them has yet turned up, but coincidentally the library coughed up Identical Strangers: A memoir of twins separated and reunited instead and it is certainly a book that approaches the concept of “mother” from many angles.

Identical StrangersElyse Schein and Paula Bernstein were given up at birth and were adopted into separate families, possibly because the adoption clinic’s consulting psychiatrist believed it was better for twins to be separated and possibly for the much less altruistic reason that she wanted to study certain aspects of heritability. The families were never told the children were twins, and it isn’t discovered until Elyse — in her 30s — embarks on a search for her birth mother.

You can imagine the issues of identity of self, of the family in which you were raised, of the family you’re now raising, of how to negotiate the new relationship with your twin, that would arise if out of the blue in your 30s it arose that not only did you have an identical twin, but the two of you may have been part of a bizarrely unethical scientific experiment.

Both twins write with amazing honesty (they alternate passages, so their individual voices remain distinct) about their experiences — I’m impressed that they were willing to put so much openness into their writing. It makes the book one part ruminations about self, family, and motherhood and one part mystery — why were they separated? Who was their mother anyway? It would be hard to say more without tossing in spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that. Recommended.